With the European phase one of our travel odyssey in the books and our batteries freshly charged, we could turn our minds at last to the more intrepid leg: South America.
Our gateway to the continent was a nation that, owing to its remarkable elongated shape, boasts the full spectrum of natural landscapes: Chile. Our plan was to get our metropolitan fix in Santiago, then to explore the southern lakes district (touching lightly on the northern reaches of Patagonia), before venturing north into the driest environment on the planet, the Atacama desert. From the Atacama, we would also cross the nearby border with Bolivia to set foot on the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. The region promised a truly superlative experience, and we felt a wave of fresh excitement that rivalled the feeling of setting off from New Zealand in May.
Nothing could really prepare us for what Chile had in store. We couldn’t have known in advance, but we had chosen to visit at a time of… shall we say… historic national importance. A mere two days after our arrival, anti-austerity riots broke out in Santiago, and they broke out hard. What began as a routine day trip to the nearby seaside metropolis of Valparaíso soon caused us to be stuck on the outskirts of Santiago with the entire transit system crippled and the city paralysed. A trip that had taken us fifteen minutes that morning now took over three hours, as protestors swarmed the streets and choked the city’s roads. We spent the next two days effectively besieged in our inner city accommodation, watching in rapt horror as riot police clashed with violent protestors beneath our bedroom window. Two days later, the ‘metropolitan fix’ that we had hoped to find in Santiago ended rather unceremoniously with an early-morning bolt for freedom through empty, debris-strewn streets.
However fraught our time in Santiago had been, there was no spoiling the natural beauty of the Chilean Andes. Although the regional centres that we stuck to thereafter still had some more provincial displays of civil unrest, we managed to visit both the lakes district and the Atacama regions largely unhampered. You could say that the rocky splendour of Chile was completely undiminished by the rocky political climate… ha.
Perhaps our only non-riot disappointment across the three weeks that we had in Chile was the dreadful weather that we encountered on the day we summited the 2850m Villarrica Volcano. We invite you to see our view from that lofty peak (and many other, more spectacular views) in this collection of videos from our time in Chile and on the Salar de Uyuni tour.
– words by Andy